For our first IFLA Newsletter, we’re happy to share a conversation between IFLA’s Secretary General Gerald Leitner and Barbara Lison, IFLA’s President 2021-2023, who offers some ideas about her presidential theme and her hopes for the coming two years.

IFLA Secretary Gerald Leitner talking with IFLA President 2021-2023 Barbara Lison

Gerald Leitner (GL): What drove you to take on the role of IFLA President?

Barbara Lison (BL): I have always been especially committed to library policy and library advocacy, marketing and governance issues. I know the impact of successful networking with partners from within and outside the library field. And supporting networking and political activities is a major task for library associations.

Therefore I started my involvement in these associations – both those bringing together institutions and library staff – quite early in my professional career. I did this step-by-step, from the regional to the national level, then I “jumped” into the European context with EBLIDA and also through the participation in EU funded projects.

My first IFLA commitment was the support of the German national committee in its bid for WLIC 2003 in Berlin. I participated in that Congress as volunteer and as a First-Timer and since then I was indeed “infected” by the IFLA spirit.

My experience as a Member of the Governing Board 2011-2013 and 2013-2015 showed me the opportunities and challenges IFLA has to support the Global Library Field. I was especially fascinated by the combination of professional work and advocacy activities which IFLA has taken on since the Presidency of Claudia Lux.

My decision to run for President-elect and – hopefully – become IFLA President was motivated by this challenge to lead this global organisation to show the world the relevance of libraries for the future of humanity. A great word, yes! But I absolutely believe in this!

GL: In your speech at our General Assembly, you talked about sustainability in our communities, in our profession, and in our Federation. What does success look like in two years?

BL: Two years is a long time and a short timeframe as well. Success in these two years means for me that recognition of the libraries as important actors for the development of the future will have been increased on the international level and also on the national, regional and local levels.

I see a fourfold task for IFLA here: a) Representing the interests of libraries and their users in the international arena in the context of international organisations and with international partners; b) Supporting and encouraging national associations and similar interest groups on the national level to act and advocate in their sphere for their respective library interests; c) Supporting the professional work of librarians to deliver high quality services and show the relevant impact of libraries; d) And finally, success for the Federation itself: Only a strong IFLA can make libraries stronger.

Therefore, we presented the new Statutes to membership which were endorsed in spring and came into effect after the General Assembly in August. These Statutes shall make IFLA even more effective and efficient, they shall enhance IFLA’s policy towards inclusion and diversity. They introduced more regional participation and representation through the establishment of a Regional Council. Success here will be when these changes and improvements are working well, effectively and constructively.

All this, of course, is a huge ambitious ongoing task. It needs continuity, far beyond my Presidency. However, I hope that we will see indications and proof of the fulfilment of these tasks. Success never is really complete, nor has a timely deadline!

GL: How do you see engagement in the IFLA Strategy as driving progress towards these goals and how do you hope that IFLA’s Members and volunteers will make this agenda their own?

BL: The IFLA Strategy is exactly directed to the achievement of these goals. Its four Strategic directions and the related key initiatives are targeted to the tasks which I see for the next two years and  – as I said – beyond.

We are now almost half way with this strategy, and I already see some achievements:  for instance, the strategic orientation of the Professional Units towards several aspects of the Strategy the widely rising awareness within the library community for the Sustainably Development Goals, and the intensified networking between the associations themselves and with IFLA.

So many events are taking place online, may it be seminars or conferences, be they organised by associations or professional units, are now directed to the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole or to specified aspects. Sometimes I even see a reference to our Strategic Directions or Key Initiatives. And when you look at the examples on the site “IFLA from home” you can discover new ideas how to implement the IFLA Strategy in your own professional environment.

In Germany we have a proverb which might fit to this challenge: “Constant dripping wears the stone away”. But that’s only one aspect of progress! In my opinion it is more important to be present and show commitment to one’s goals in order to get as many colleagues as possible into one boat. That’s what I have been trying all my life and what I will try to continue to do now.

GL: How do you see yourself working with IFLA’s Members and volunteers during this time?

BL: It’s very interesting how the Pandemic influences the activities of a person who is IFLA President! On the one hand side, personal encounters and personal exchanges have become very complicated. On the other hand, the digital and online “encounters” have considerably increased because of the enormous technical developments of online communication tools.

Currently, I am “meeting” with colleagues from all over the world almost every day, giving welcoming addresses, or even presentations. In the world of  “The Old Normal” this would have looked totally different.

Nevertheless, I am kind of missing the direct personal contact – a contact which goes beyond a “Q&A session” or a “Panel discussion”. Therefore, I am happy that I can now start travelling and will have meetings in person at least in Europe. My first trip was to Vienna and there is an invitation pending for Switzerland at the end of October.

My theme “Libraries building a sustainable future” can be related to several aspects of this. Of course, the UN Sustainable Development Goals play a major role in this context. However, sustainability is also a key element when it comes to the point of how libraries deal with the Pandemic and – maybe even more importantly – how libraries deal with the consequences of the Pandemic.

My theme shall give an optimistic perspective to the library field combined with trust in the future and with the pride for our achievements in these difficult times.

Find out more about Barbara and her presidential theme on the President’s page on our website!